The dogwood trees bent gracefully, their flat layers of bursting fat blossoms arrayed as far as the sky climbed. Lined along the gravel path were the crabapple and pear trees with their juicy green leaves showing off around the apples and pears. Following the path were half-eaten and broken fruits, leathered and wormholed and dripping with juice.
The air was cold but the kites didn’t care. They danced high along the tops of the redbud trees, knocking the thick pink flowers to the ground. Chill breezes spun and laughed and swept the paper and cardboard kites up high to brush the clouds.
Sily walked with her hands behind her back, sometimes stopping and listening with her eyes closed, sometimes walking briskly along the tree-lined path. Across the common the ocean cracked and roared and flung itself up against the sand castles a child had made the afternoon before.
Sily stopped and snapped a cherry plum blossom off its twig. She twisted it in her fingers, watching the yellow and the brown and the dizzying pink spin and spin.
A woman sitting under a pear tree with her ankles crossed was humming, her eyes closed. Occasionally a gust of wind blew a cascade of the thin white blossoms down upon her, resting in her hair and lap and around her laced fingers.
Snow still melted in the crooks of the trees, winter’s last, regretful reminder it would come again. But the blossoms and cool breeze mocked the snow and pushed it off onto the ground. Half the town had come out, to the park, to witness the first day of spring.
Sily walked down toward the shore. At the edge of the weedy sand she took off her shoes—white, satiny, perfect for the spring day. She stepped to the sand. It was cold and damp, darkly muddy and creased with the cracking lines running gaily along to the sea.
She felt no dread. She meant to do this. She took a breath and set her shoulders back.
Planted along the shoreline, between the sand and the dirt, were rows and rows of spindly little lupines, pushing bravely up away from the cracked and almost-frozen ground, having barely survived the winter.
The water washed up, bubbling, leaving ringlets and lovely foamy curves in the sand around her feet. Sily gasped when it touched her feet.
She walked as far as Lion Bark Garden stretched, about two miles or so, along the shore. Out in the distance the cold horizon was slowly darkening, bringing lush orange and fiery pink up out of the earth, and then darker blues, starry navy, and quiet, hushed black.
“Where is it?” she muttered.
As the trees ended and the street picked up a brightly colored crab waddled past, scurrying away from the ocean, across her path, making tiny pencil marks in the sand, so delicate, so precise.
Sily laughed. “Hello, little man,” she said, slipping her fingers underneath in that awkward-but-convenient position to prevent her fingers getting bit and snapped. The tiny crab was blue underneath, in expanding circles of flooding color. It wriggled in her fingers and she set it down.
Her hands and shoes behind her back, Sily stood and watched the ocean rise, like a deep breath filling her chest, in the tide.
She sighed. The night was growing colder, the shouts of the children and the kites dimmer as their parents took their hands and led them home, the kite following faithfully, dogging behind in the sky.
As Sily walked back, her eye caught on a fluttering piece of paper. It was under a rock, waving like a tiny flag of surrender. “Finally,” she breathed. “Finally.”
Gently she picked up the rock and threw it into the ocean. She pried the sand-sealed plastic bag open with her fingernails and pulled out the folded, creased paper. She opened it.
On it was her heart. What was left of it, anyway. Left of the promise she’d made to herself to shut him out and throw his memory away.
The words began in painfully familiar handwriting. They scattered across the paper, tottering like a drunk in the excited way of the writer, professing love and admiration and eternal devotion. A space in the paper, then—darker writing, thicker letters, straighter lines. Jo’s writing. He always could write like a typewriter. Perfect, unerring.
Seeing his words, his heart, the lies he spilled from his forked tongue, flattering, buttery compliments that blinded her and pulled her away, told her he loved her and promised falsehoods that cut and killed, made her face contract and a growl begin, deep inside her throat, an ache that refused to leave.
Her fingers clenched and found the ring buried underneath all the paper. It was gold, scarred with age and filtering sand and blazing sun. His ring. She hated it.
She looked up. The stars were beginning to wink but the sun hadn’t waved goodbye yet. It glimmered loyally on the horizon.
She breathed. Deep, strong breaths.
Then Sily crumpled up the poem, her heart, the piece she’d given to Jo, around the heavy gold ring, and tossed both as far as she could into the rushing sea. A gasp left her as she watched the white ball darken with seawater, tighten, contort, and sink beneath the waves, far out away from Lion Bark Garden.
Her shoulders were lighter now. Her path seemed to be lit with golden globes, dancing on the light, floating in the soft evening breeze. He was gone. He’d never be back. With the paper and her ring and her heart and the memory of Jo sinking and disintegrating far away from her, Sily was able to laugh.
She followed the path of the glowing globes, strung up in the red chestnut trees, low around her shoulders, brushing her face tenderly, caressing her eyes and telling her she did right.
She was done. Through the park again, crushing old crabapples beneath her feet, stepping lightly over fallen blossoms, through the empty, peaceful dark, toward the iron gates.
Lion Bark Garden closed behind her, ocean filling the shore as far as it could, pear trees bowing to the dark, accepting the night, and the birds, back from the south, burying themselves in their nests, singing one last song after her. Sily walked out into the street, still barefoot, and followed the flickering street lights home.